But at least one observer of the aviation industry says there was nothing illegal or even all that eyebrow-raising about it.
As CBS News Correspondent Kelly Cobiella reports, thirteen-year-old Bobby Nolan says no one at Jacksonville International Airport even bothered to question them.
It was a plan, Cobiella says, hatched by his fifteen-year-old friend, Brigit, via test message: Bobby, Brigit, and her eleven-year-old brother would fly to Dollywood, an amusement park in eastern Tennessee.
"They didn't question us," Bobby says. " They just handed us the tickets and they signed off and we just went through."
With $700 in babysitting money, Cobiella says, the group took a cab to the airport, bought tickets from Southwest Airlines, passed through security and boarded a plane.
But it was only after they landed in Nashville that they realized they were in the wrong city, nowhere near Dollywood. Panicked, they called their parents, who flew them back home. "They just told us to stay together and all. Don't go apart," Bobby says.
Both Southwest Airlines and the Transportation Security Administration issued statements.
Southwest said it's "unaccompanied minor policy covers children from ages five through 11 traveling alone. In this case, the 11-year-old customer was accompanied by two older companions." The TSA said, "If a passenger is under the age of 18 they are required to present a valid boarding pass and clear screening before entering the secure area of the airport."
Though the kids' parents are questioning how both Southwest and the TSA could allow the children to travel without any form of consent, Ben Mutzabaugh, who covers travel for USA Today, says, "Neither Southwest nor the TSA actually did anything outside their typical protocol.
"There are ways," he told "The Early Show on Saturday Morning" co-anchor Chris Wragge, "maybe these children could have raised red flags on the way, but it doesn't sound like any of that happened on their flight. In fact, I talked to Southwest … and they said that the 15-year-old girl had the foresight to call and make the reservations over the phone and go over all of her birth date information over the phone with Southwest before going to the airport and paying for the tickets there. It sounds like they had their bases covered for getting to Dollywood -- except they picked the wrong airport (to head for)!
Wouldn't common sense dictate that the threesome be questioned?
"It's hard to say without actually being there," Mutzabaugh responded. "Certainly, there's the side of you that hears that and says, 'Shouldn't somebody have noticed?' Possibly. When I talked to Southwest, their side of the story ... they said the children had what seemed a very plausible story.
"And you know, the flip side is, let's say these children were flying to visit relatives or maybe another half of a divorced parent couple. If the airline stops and gives them grief and says, 'Hey, do your parents know about this?' and they miss their flight, another parent in another city might be irritated. There are definitely a lot of ways the story could go either way, but I don't think it's quite as clear-cut that they should have been stopped. They could have been, but nothing seemed to raise red flags enough along the way for anyone to think this was outside of anything ... normal."
What about implications for the battle against terrorism?
"Just like everybody else, that was probably one of my first concerns - 'Hey, is this safe?' But at the end of the day, even without ID, these kids still have to go through security, just like the rest of us. They're still subject to the screening apparatus, and in fact, I wasn't there to see it myself, of course, but protocol indicates that, even for children under 18, they have to have get ... security pat downs and so forth. Presumably they did get that, so they should have been just as secure going through the airport as any of the rest of us with IDs."